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Editorial: Replacing schools chief requires thorough process

Nov. 24, 2012 @ 10:00 PM

Many reacted in shock when the West Virginia Board of Education voted 5-2 on Nov. 15 to fire Superintendent Jorea Marple. The move raised questions in some quarters, with the suggestion that the decision was politically motivated, although exactly how so hasn't been made clear.

But the greatest danger is that the real need to address the state's low-performing education system will get lost amid the political wrangling, and those at the top of the state's schools will lose sight of what's best for students.

The school system is at a crucial crossroads, and now is the time for careful consideration.

A $750,000 audit released in January concluded that the state's schools performed poorly under the tight control of the state Department of Education and a set of state laws that hampered innovation at the local level. The audit included over 100 recommendations to put greater emphasis on improving student achievement and save money at the same time. It also raised questions about various aspects of the state Department of Education, including whether it's simply just too big.

Considering that the audit was released more than 10 months ago, expectations are high that assessment of its recommendations should be nearly complete by now and action on some of them will take place in this winter's legislative session. The Board of Education on Wednesday adopted a response plan suggesting action in teacher recruitment and retention, use of technology, improving efficiency in numerous departments and reorganizing the Department of Education.

Those all sound like good goals, but the board also needs to embark on a thorough process to determine who Marple's successor should be. Board member Gayle Manchin said she voted to dismiss Marple because she sees a need to change the deep-seeded culture in the Department of Education. She noted that while some officials in the Department of Education have been open to suggestions contained in the education audit, others have been defensive.

With that in mind, the board first should determine what qualities it wants in the next superintendent. Among the key requirements most likely will be a strong leader who can spearhead changes, because it is becoming apparent that a culture change is needed within the Department of Education. An openness to considering new ideas and different ways of doing things is a must if the state's education system is to improve.

The should include a nationwide search to find the right person, who can bring a fresh perspective.

Because of some legal questions regarding the Nov. 15 vote, the Board of Education will once again take up Marple's dismissal at a meeting on Nov. 29. Indications are the outcome will be no different from the first vote. Also on that agenda is a discussion of a new superintendent.

We trust that board president Wade Linger and other members of the board will back off the hiring of anyone at that session, as Linger suggested shortly after Marple was fired. Considering only one candidate and picking a replacement in just two weeks is not the way to go about choosing the next state education leader when an opportunity to make real change exists.

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